POLITICS

Top Democrat Fed Up With Party's Timid Strategy On Trump Tax Returns

"All it takes is writing a letter," says Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).

WASHINGTON ― A Democrat who has led the party’s push to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns is tired of waiting. 

Since they took control of the House of Representatives this year, Democrats have had the power to obtain the returns of any taxpayer, but they’ve hesitated to use it. 

“There’s no reason to delay anymore,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said in an interview. “In fact, there’s every reason to act now.”

As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) can ask the U.S. Treasury Department for anyone’s tax information. But Neal has said moving quickly would be a mistake, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has backed him. 

Pascrell is a senior member of Ways and Means and has supported Neal’s approach until now. 

At first, Neal said his staff was drafting the request “methodically.” More recently, he said he wanted to wait until the Justice Department’s independent special counsel, Robert Mueller, finished his investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government. But nobody knows when the investigation will end.

“I don’t believe we should wait for the Mueller report, with all respect to the chairman, who I trust,” Pascrell said. 

After this story published, Neal said Thursday that Pascrell called him and “said to me on the phone I was handling it the right way.”

A Pelosi spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Trump broke decades of precedent by not disclosing his personal tax information when he ran for president in 2016. Tax returns can show how much money a person makes, how they make it and how much tax they pay. 

Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified Wednesday before the House oversight committee that Trump manipulated the value of his assets for advantageous tax treatment. He also said that Trump reimbursed him for hush money payments made during the presidential campaign to a woman who claimed she’d had an affair with Trump.

“If Trump wrote these payments off as a business expense, that would constitute fraud and his returns would show that,” Pascrell said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) says there's no reason to wait anymore on seeking Trump's tax filings.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) says there's no reason to wait anymore on seeking Trump's tax filings.

Pascrell previously pestered the committee’s Republican leaders about the tax returns, which they refused to request, arguing it would be an abuse of power  ― even though Republicans themselves used the same power to obtain and disclose private tax information in 2014 during its investigation of the IRS’ treatment of conservative groups. 

Federal law says the chairs of certain committees, including Ways and Means, can ask for copies of any taxpayer’s returns and that the treasury secretary “shall furnish such committee with any return or return information” specified in the request. The law dates to the 1920s and is designed to be a way for Congress to check corruption in the executive branch. 

Treasury spokespeople have said the department will review any requests “for legality,” strongly hinting the department would start an unprecedented court battle. 

Outside groups and more progressive members of the House Democratic caucus have pushed Neal to act, arguing among other things that the longer he waits, the longer it will take to win the court battle. 

“All it takes is writing a letter, putting a stamp on it,” Pascrell said. “I’ll deliver it myself. I volunteer.” 

This story has been updated to include comment from Neal.

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